In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Dear brothers and sisters of our crucified and risen Savior:
God has gathered us into his house and around his altar this afternoon. God has gathered us in the face of loss and suffering and death and confusion to not only affirm that all of us are in desperate need of forgiveness, but to also clearly proclaim again that that there is sure and certain forgiveness offered to all who would by faith receive it -- even in the face of death and loss.
Despite the tragedies we read about in the daily paper, despite the cruelty and power struggles we experience within the places where we work or study, despite the self-centeredness in the secret corners of our own lives, despite all the darkness and sickness and burdens and hurt outside us and within us, God comes to speak a word of mercy, and loving-kindness and forgiveness and restoration.
That word of forgiveness is strong and clear in Jesus' announcement of who he is and why he has come to us.
The Holy Gospel According to Saint John, the sixth chapter:
Jesus said to them, "Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures unto eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal." Then they said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." (John 6:27-29 ESV)
In the midst of all our misplaced hungers and fallen desires, Jesus has come to feed us with the life-giving Bread from heaven, even himself, as he gives his all for such people as Mavis -- for such people as you and me.
In the midst -- in spite of -- those secret cravings and unstoppable habits only we know lurk in our heart, Jesus has come to truly satisfy our deepest spiritual hungers for lasting peace and genuine hope and eternal rescue.
This hour is not set aside for us to pour over and rack-up the number of outwardly good works Mavis Pietila performed in the 59 years God granted to her. We are not here to preach her into heaven or give 101 reasons why she was better than her neighbors down the street.
God has gathered us to reveal anew the double work he accomplished in the life of Mavis and the double work he continues in our own lives as well: the work of holding the mirror of his divine law before our eyes, that we would despair of any human attempts to patch things up or make things the way they were. The verdict? All who are born of fallen parents, all who doubt the goodness of God, all who attempt to run away from his fatherly hand, all who try to do what God commands but fail on a daily basis -- all are in desperate need of God's forgiveness in Christ Jesus.
That need of forgiveness Mavis confessed privately, and publicly as she joined the congregation in the words:
Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. We justly deserve your present and eternal punishment.
For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways to the glory of your holy name. Amen
The Good News this memorial service proclaims -- the Good News Mavis Pietila put her trust in -- despite her fallen human nature -- is the Good News that God declared at her baptism and on each day she heard the pastor announce: "Upon this, your confession, ... in the place and by the command of Christ, I forgive you all your sins."
In spite of our pitiful mistakes and costly blunders, in spite of our wrong choices and faulty decisions, in spite of our less-than-perfect personalities and the doubts that gnaw on our consciences, despite our daily predisposition to wander from the grace and heart of our Good Shepherd, we can have comfort and hope and strength and even peace in the midst of impossible odds and the most desperate of situations.
Through Mavis' life Jesus called her to take her eyes off of herself and her own attempts to make everything right with God and neighbor.
And throughout our life, Jesus calls each of us to take our eyes off of ourselves and our own attempts to make everything right with God and neighbor.
Jesus comes to be the object of our trust -- even in the midst of all our unspeakable failings -- our regrets -- our shortcomings. This is why we memorized as little kids the meaning behind the third article (the third paragraph) of the Apostles' Creed:
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith ... and will at the last day raise up me and all the dead, and give unto me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.
Through his grace, we give thanks for the salvation offered by Christ -- salvation offered to Mavis and taken to heart by faith.
Mavis loved the children of the Church and she loved the music of the Church, because she loved the giver of all good and saving gifts: the Lord of the Church, even Christ Jesus, who's heart is pure and true and compassionate and all-giving.
She sang those gifts of Christ and played those gifts of Christ and taught those gifts of Christ, not only to her family and to children and to adult Christians, but she sang and spoke and played and taught those saving gifts of Christ back into her own heart as she looked to her redeeming Lord and his merciful, long-suffering, patient, life-giving heart.
Christ mercifully heard the prayers of his servant Mavis and has made good on his promises for her salvation. And what about each of us?
We can find rest for our souls as we find rest in what God has done and accomplished and completed in time, for eternity -- for your eternity through the giving of his only-begotten Son unto death.
We shall find rest for our souls as we find rest in what God has declared on account of his Son: "I have called you from eternity to be my dear child. Before the heavens and earth were formed I formed the plan to redeem you from your sins. Listen to my Son as he declares again this day:
"All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of the Father, that everyone who looks upon the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:37-40 ESV)
The first word when it comes to Mavis and her salvation is also the last word: Mavis was baptized by God -- through the Holy Spirit -- into Christ's death, and, therefore, into his resurrection.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen